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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Lucky Charms Pie

I think I was supposed to be a stoner. I think whatever deity made me just
sculpted 90% of a stoner and forgot to flip the final switch. 
I have no idea what this is and I frankly don't even want to talk about it. I have no idea why it worked out or how in the world it even crossed my subconscious, but it did. Strap in, my tchotchkes, because you're going to learn how to make one of the craziest pie recipes I've ever made. It's not really crazy because it's got some wild technique that I've invented - it's just....wild. Like, who in the world would ask for a Lucky Charms Pie? My subconscious, that's who.

Several days ago I woke up thinking of a Lucky Charms Pie. Somehow, it was in my dream the night before. It was such a weird dream, but I didn't tell my husband about it because I couldn't recall the actual plot of it. Fast forward through the day and it was easily one of the worst days at work in memory. I don't want to talk about it, so don't ask, but just know that I was already emotionally drained from returning home from Tucson after my great-grandmother's funeral. I basically didn't have it in me... And more and more was happening, even after the work day had technically ended. I was throwing things at this point and my husband asked me if he could do anything for me. I was so mad I couldn't think, so I just asked him to go get me a soda or a crunch bar or some kind of sweet, textured thing while I cooked dinner. He came back with sodas, a crunch bar, some OJ (for him) and a box of Lucky Charms. Naturally, I burst into tears.


It was like a sign. The Gods of the Good Kush wanted me to make this stupid pie. I was already up to my elbows in tortellini, though, so of course I wasn't going to make it tonight. I did, however, have the perfect opportunity to do it the following Sunday when I was having a brunch/dinner with my friends.

See, my friend had never had mimosas before. As a Crowned and Anointed Basic Bitch I couldn't let this stand, so I bought some cava and some pulp-y orange juice for the mimosas. I thought about making french toast but since we'd be meeting around dinner time I figured I'd make a quiche. And since I was making pie dough already...

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.

I made a whole wheat pie crust to work with both the savory and sweet...and because I wasn't really doing anything truly healthy at dinner and we were having booze after, it somehow made me feel better to do a whole wheat crust on this thing. I kept it neutral in flavor so it would work for both. You can obviously use store-bought pie crust but feel free to use my recipe below.

Lucky Charms Pie
yields one ungoldly horror of a pie, 9" across, serves 8

Pie Crust
  • 350 g AP flour
  • 150 g whole wheat flour
  • 150 g vegan butter substitute (or dairy butter, whatever you like)
  • 150 g vegetable shortening
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 fat pinch of kosher salt
  • Rum, as needed
Lucky Charms Cereal Milk
  • 475 ml (or 2 cups) soy milk
  • 1 cup lucky charms plus more to garnish, divided
  • 1/2 c (100 g) granulated sugar + more later...you'll see
  • 1/4 c (31 g) icing/confectioner's/powdered sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 fat pinch of kosher salt
  • Blue food coloring, if desired
First thing's first, you're going to make the pie crust. Start by rubbing the fat into the flours and salt using your fingertips. You can also place your flour in the bowl of a standing mixer with your paddle attachment and adding in all of your fat, stirring until everything is sort of incorporated and the fat looks to be about pea-sized. You can also pulse your pie ingredients in a food processor. Whatever. Everyone has their own way to make pie dough, you can use yours. 

I like to use rum in my pie doughs because it has a genuinely nice flavor and alcohol won't form gluten like water will. I like to have my doughs be rather short, so I kind of like to take every precaution I can to have a nice short crust. Yay! 

Either way, bring your dough together and allow to chill for at least one hour before rolling out. This will make enough dough for two pies plus plenty for decoration, so feel free to cut this recipe in half. I just always make this amount in case I need to make two pies. And hey! It's great to have extra on hand. 

While your pie dough is chilling, make the cereal milk by pouring a whole cup of this yummy marshmallow cereal into your soy milk (you can use dairy milk, if you want - it's your pie) and stir. Get everything wet and let sit for about 30 minutes in your fridge.You don't want to bring your milk to a boil and then infuse it in the hot way, like you would a tea. Just be patient and do it this way. In the meantime, separate your eggs and let them come up to room temperature. You can use all six egg whites, but I only used three since I didn't know how much of a sugar coma I wanted to put my friends into. Besides! You can freeze egg whites perfectly to make an excellent macaron later on.

Use cutters, use braids...use whatever you like! This is your pie.
Once the dough is chilled and rested, please feel free to go nuts with the decoration. You'll be par-baking this crust at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes before baking the custard in with it. This way, no soggy bottoms. We don't like soggy bottoms. I did end up using parchment paper and some baking beads. You can use rice, dry beans, and more - just PLEASE make sure to use parchment paper to line it with first, and poke some holes in the bottom of the crust to allow some steam to vent. Otherwise, this could turn into a big gloopy gross mess. 

After it's baked, turn the oven down to 325 degrees and place the pie pan on a cookie sheet. Then take the cookie sheet and place it in the middle rack of the oven. Go ahead and open up the oven to let the heat come out and pull the rack out about halfway so that the pie is sitting in the oven already. Trust me on this because you'll thank me later. You won't have to walk to the oven with a slippery and hot pie crust with sloshy liquid!

Using a spatula, mix the egg yolks with both the powdered and granulated sugars. I like a spatula instead of a whisk because I don't want too much air in this. Basically, I stir and press to make a smooth sort of custard-looking texture, and this way I won't get a foam on top. I then strain the cereal milk liquid into the eggs, slowly, and stir in until everything is incorporated. Make sure you scrape from the bottom and try not to agitate it too much! Next, add your salt and - if you like - the food coloring. I noticed that the dyes from the cereal turned my milk a faint blue color, and I just felt like going fully psychedelic with this. Again, you don't have to! I just chose to. 

Discard the soggy cereal and strain this entire mixture into a pitcher. Push the rack back, the pie shell directly in to the oven, while sitting on the tray, and pour your custard into the shell. Now simply bake for about 40 minutes, or until the custard is just barely set. My oven took about 40 minutes, but yours might take more or less time. I'd say just check it at 30 and then see.

When the custard shows a slight wobble, in the middle, turn your oven off and open the oven door a crack. Let the custard sit in the oven for another 20 minutes to gently carry-over cook. This will give you a smooth-as-silk finish. If you had bubbles or foam on the top, it might have browned slightly. This is okay, as we're covering the whole pie with meringue later.

Once it's all done with it's pre-cool, remove your pie from the oven and pop it straight in the fridge. I'd let it cool for at least an hour, but give it two if you can. When you're ready to serve, get your mixer ready.

Using a very clean bowl and a very clean whisk attachment for your standing mixer or hand mixer, pop in as many egg whites as you like. The rule for me is that a perfect meringue is about 1/4 c granulated sugar per large egg white. This means that, for three egg whites, I used 3/4 c of granulated sugar. To make a perfect meringue, make sure your equipment is super clean and super dry. I like to have a pot of simmering water at the ready, and set my bowl - egg whites inside - over the heat. Using a whisk, I like to stir in the sugar by hand, whipping gently to foam and dissolve the sugar. Once it's a fairly warmer than body temperature and all foamy and dissolved (I think 160 degrees F/71 degrees C if you want to be precise) remove it from the heat. Then use your electric mixer to bring it up, on high, until the peaks are stiff, glossy, and about tripled in volume. The meringue shouldn't slide out of the bowl at all and should hold its shape. Delicious!

This is another way you can get really creative. Once my cooled pie was ready, I heated the oven to 350 again. I used a piping bag to make the designs around the edges for mine, or at least for half of it, and then dumped the rest on in a pile just to cover the top of the custard. You can really just go nuts on how you want to decorate this, so long as at least half of the meringue is baked. I baked mine for about 5 minutes in the oven, just until the tips were lightly brown. You can also use a torch, if you like! Either way, I baked the custard, piped on some fresh meringue to help stick the garnishes, and then topped my pie with a big fat handful of the Lucky Charms cereal. You can add some white chocolate bits, some chocolate candies, and even some rainbow sprinkles, if you like! Just please don't go too crazy with other flavors. You want to have the real flavor of this crazy cereal as much as possible!

Serve to your friends and watch them begin to giggle like schoolgirls at the taste of this crazy thing...which is straight-up cereal. Hilarious and fun! It's a great treat for a party or for your holiday fun. Speaking of which, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I might just make this crazy thing again for Tuesday. We'll see!

A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

Happy cooking and happy eating. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies

There aren't going to be any cute anecdotes about these cookies. These are good and I like them.

I'm going to be short here. I've lost my great-grandmother yesterday. She was 101 years old. I'm going to spell that out for dramatic effect: one-hundred and one years old. I had a grandmother that lived for more than a century. She saw the rise of social justice, she saw the revolutions of the time, she saw segregation end, she saw the rise of the global internet, and she saw approximately 75 grandchildren be born and grow up. It's okay that she's gone. Her funeral is next week so I'll be flying back to my  home town to see my family there and say our final goodbyes. It's unsure if I'll blog next Sunday.

I remember her teaching me how to play chess and then throwing the board away after I beat her for the first time. I remember her playing rummikubs. I remember her showing me how to embroider and cross-stitch. She showed me how to knit once but she really preferred to crochet. I sewed all of my prom dresses and homecoming dresses with her help. I don't remember her baking much, but I do know she had a sweet tooth.

These cookies don't have much to do with her, other than the fact that I developed and perfected the recipe the other day and they brought me some joy. I hope you all feel joy today and I hope you like these cookies, too; because they're good, and I like them.

Pistachio Thumbprint Cookies
yields about 24 cookies
  • 125 vegan butter
  • 110 g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 150 g flour
  • 120 g pistachios, ground
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • Pistachio paste** as needed or strawberry jam as needed
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a half-sheet pan with a silicon liner or parchment paper. 

Grind your pistachios in a coffee grinder in pulses along with the salt. You want to make sure that you shake your grinder about a little bit to make sure it doesn't turn into paste or  butter. You can also grind these in a food processor with a few spoonfuls of your flour; it all really depends on what kind of equipment you have. 

Beat the butter and sugar together using a whisk or the whisk attachment of your standing mixer, and add in the egg and vanilla. Use a spatula to add in the flour and ground pistachio mixture, stirring until everything is just incorporated. 

Using a 1 oz scoop/disher, scoop out small balls of dough and place them on your prepared sheet pan. These don't really spread, so don't be afraid to put them close together. You can roll these in your hand, if you like, and press them down just a bit with the bottom of a drinking glass to make them smoother, but I like them to be a little craggy. 

Protip: instead of using your thumb to push the indent into the cookie, use a grape. I took this red seedless grape and pressed it into the dough to make an indentation, and each cookie was uniform because of it. Neat!

Next comes the fun part: filling the cookies! You can either use pistachio paste or strawberry jam. I like both of them, but you can decide what's easier for you. You may also use raspberry but please don't use grape. What's pistachio paste? It's a paste made from pistachios! You can find it at most specialty food stores, but I hear that grocers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's might even carry the stuff nowadays. You can, however, make your own!

Pistachio Paste

Simply soak a cup or two of pistachios in water overnight and drain and reserve some of the water. Grind it in a food processor with 2-3 tablespoons of cane sugar and a pinch of salt. It should be a little runnier than hummus. You can store this in the fridge, covered, for about 2 weeks. It can be used to fill cakes, make creams and custards and mousses, ice creams, and - of course - fill cookies. 

It only takes a small spoonful for each well, but you don't want to overfill it either way, especially with jams. If you don't have homemade, store-bought is just fine. 

Bake these cookies at 350 for 10-12 minutes, but try not to let them brown too much, otherwise their glorious green color is dulled. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before consuming - that jam is HOT and will burn the roof or your mouth. And you will scream. And your husband will come up from the basement, running at full speed, and stub his toe on the refrigerator. And he'll fall and you'll both end up on the kitchen floor. It will not be cute like those stupid rom-coms that lied to us when we were little. It will be chaos and will hurt a lot. 

These cookies are great for a quick something to snack on. You'll want to double or even triple the recipe, as you'll eat most of them yourself. Seriously they didn't even last a full 24 hours in my house. They're, like, really good. You can use regular butter if you like, but I use Earth Balance, which is my favorite vegan butter that acts and tastes very much like the real thing. Up to you!

Thanks, all! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Easy Challah for Hanukkah

"Challah" at yo girl!
Happy 1st night of Hanukkah, my tchotchkes! I won't go into the whole history of the holiday, nor will I go on a long tangent on why it's the best. I'll just give you the important thing that you need to know to have a successful Hanukkah:

Deep. Fry. Everything.

The miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil in that sealed jug meant for their lanterns was only enough for one night, but it ended up lasting enough for eight nights, thus giving the Maccabees time to make more oil. There's actually a big long story along with it, but if you want to have a little fun while learning, watch this.

Yes, I did just show you a clip from "The Meanie of Hanukkah." As far as I can tell, it's all we have in the ways of popular culture. The point is that oil is important, and that's why we eat lots of deep-fried foods.The only real rule is to not mix meat with dairy.

A meat menu will often consist of a brisket or a roasted chicken to go along with the latkes and often a green vegetable. A dairy menu can have grilled salmon along with goat cheese and beet risotto or an egg dish with lots of cheese...and don't forget the kugel! Spruce Eats actually has a great selection of ideas for you. You can find my favorite latke recipe right here. If you're feeling fancy, I like to add dried dill. You can also find my easy vegan doughnut recipe right here, which I'll be making tonight to go with my fried chicken. Yum!

Challah is a traditional loaf of braided bread, made with eggs. This is my own version that's super easy, very flavorful, and relatively quick.

yields 1 loaf
  • 500 g AP flour
  • 6 g yeast
  • 1 fat pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 200 g warm water
  • 30 g kosher wine (a splash or two)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil or vegan butter substitute
Combine everything in the bowl of your standing mixer and bring it together using a dough hook. You'll knead for about five minutes, or until it's nice and smooth and is gently crawling up your hook. If you'd like to add anything to your challah, such as sesame seeds or dried herbs, now would be the time. Just let it run for a few turns, just enough to mix them in. Oil a bowl and set your dough in a warm place to double in size. This is call prooving, because you prove that the yeast works. Hah!

Once that time has passed, divide your dough into thirds and braid. When you get to the end, turn - 

Eh? What's that? You don't know how to braid? Oh, dear. Well, here you go! Here's a tutorial on how to braid different kinds.

Now that that's all sorted, pop your bread loaf on a baking sheet and cover gently with a clean tea towel. While it's rising, let your oven come up to 400 degrees F. Prepare an egg wash of 1 egg plus a touch of salt and sugar, and maybe a tsp of water. Let that hang out until that has doubled in size, usually 30 to 45 minutes depending. Gently brush with your egg wash to give that glorious color and bake for 25 - 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F.

Let your challah cool on a rack and serve with your dinner. Enjoy playing with your dreidels and have a great night! Happy cooking, happy eating, and happy deep-frying!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Sorghum Gingerbread Houses

Please ignore the mess in my kitchen. I was up all night baking this thing. 
Every year, I bake a gingerbread house for a little place called the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired. They throw this competition in which local pastry chefs compete in building gingerbread structures in order to raise money for the center. This is one of their signature fundraisers and is a whole heck of a lot of fun to participate in. All of the houses are put up on display and locals can come in, vote for their favorites, and even win these structures in a silent auction for display in their homes, offices, country clubs, and more! Every penny goes to benefit the center. Let me tell you a little bit about it...

The CCVI is one out of eight schools in the United States that aids young children that are either blind or visually impaired. I've been to the school a few times, and they have caring teachers that are there, patiently helping toddlers and young children navigate the world well enough to attend conventional schools in some cases. They offer personalized tutelage, they have parent groups to get together with others, and they're all around good people. The thing I love the best about Kansas City is that there seems to be no shortage of folks that want to help other folks. The city isn't exactly altruistic, but it sure is a place that humanitarians can have their choice of places to volunteer at and make a positive impact on the world.

Let's get onto sorghum, though, shall we? After all, it's in the title of the blog...

This is sorghum. It's a cereal grain that grows tall, like corn, and is native to Africa. Traditionally, much like corn, it's grown as livestock feed, but if you're from the American south, you know all about sorghum syrup and its many uses. Sorghum was - and still is - a cheaper alternative to honey and molasses. The syrup made from the grain is bountiful, and the plant itself is drought resistant, which makes it far more sustainable a crop than sugar cane or corn. The grains can be turned into a sweet and sticky syrup, but also popped like popcorn, cooked like a risotto, and has found its way into the gluten-free market to make as a grain bowl. Ground into flour, with the help of xantham gum, you can make yourself a tasty bread. If you're not trying sorghum, you're missing out.

Molasses, while tasty and recognizable, is a byproduct of cane sugar. I don't need to tell you that cane sugar isn't exactly the most-sustainable thing in the world. By making switches to coconut sugar, beet sugar, and sorghum, you'd be surprised how much environmental impact it would have. I don't have all day to tell you about the corruption in the sugar business, but I can tell you this: sugarcane is one of the thirstiest crops in the world, and it's a much quicker and easier solution to make sustainable switches than to look around for fair trade, sustainable cane sugar. Furthermore, cane sugar has lead to significant losses for the environment, especially in the realm of biodiversity. This, along with many other reasons, is one you should take into consideration before making sugar cookies with white sugar versus coconut sugar, or gingerbread cookies with molasses versus sorghum.

This gingerbread house, like many others, was made with this adapted recipe for gingerbread. I love this recipe because it's very structurally strong, is easy to roll thin while maintaining its integrity, and is still tasty enough to snack on the scraps. It's strong because it has a low amount of fat and no eggs, so therefore will last quite a long time. Best of all, the sorghum makes the dough pliable so you can easily work with it. Shall we?

Sorghum Gingerbread House Dough
yields enough to make one small house - double for a medium house!

  • 112 g coconut sugar
  • 230 g sorghum syrup (I like the dark, but you can use light if you like)
  • 90 g coconut oil, vegetable shortening, or vegan butter substitute
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
    • Use paste, if you can! The smell will be much nicer in the end
  • 350 g AP flour, plus more for dusting
Sift together the flour and spices, then rub in the fat with your fingers. Stir in the remaining ingredients by hand, with a wooden spoon, gently, until everything is homogeneous and well-incorporated. You may use this immediately, of course, but it can set for up to 24 hours at room temperature, wrapped up in plastic wrap, divided in two equal discs. You'll notice that I've omitted any leavening agent - this is because when things like baking powder or baking soda are present in a cookie recipe, they make things rise and they make things soft. We don't want a soft cookie, we want a strong one, nor do we want one that will rise and will change shape on us when baked. 

Now, let's talk about your design. You can print out an easy template online with printer paper, or you can sketch one up on cardboard. You need to be pretty good at math and have some basic engineering skills to draw one up on your own. Or, you know, you can cheat and have your husband (who's good at it because he's an architect, not because he's a man) draw up a design for you. 

This house is based off of pan-Lithuanian/Belarusian architecture, taking inspiration from folksy traditional homes. I rolled out the pieces of dough quite thin, about 3/16", all on parchment paper so it was easy to trace and transfer to a sheet pan. I suggest cutting out the shapes with the raw dough first before baking at 350 for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, take out the cookies and work quickly, for heaven's sake, at this next bit. 

Please label your pieces. This will save you so much heartache and headache in the long run.
Take your template and lay it gently over your cookie. Using a pizza wheel or a small, sharp knife, trim away the edges that have bloomed out and spread during the baking process. This will give you a nice sharp edge! Bake again for another 10 minutes before removing from the oven. Take another sheet pan and lay it very gently atop your baked cookie, only allowing the weight of the pan to flatten out the cookie's surface. Remove the pan and re-trim the cookie if necessary to your shape. Allow to cool completely before you start building with it!

Always mark with pencil, not pen! You can also use edible markers, if you plan to eat it later.

I highly suggest that you use plywood as your base. It's strong, cheap, and readily available at most hardware stores. My gingerbread base was 2' x 2', which was large enough for my house as well as a few added extras for decoration. Consider this, though:

Don't make a gingerbread house that's too big to display in your own home. I suggest that you find a place in your home that you'd like to have your house displayed, measure out the space, and design around that. This house can fit nicely on a side table or atop a chest of drawers. If you'd like a smaller house that can fit on your dining room table, design accordingly.

Slow and steady wins the race. This house took me about 12 hours total.

You're also going to want to have plenty of straight and heavy things to set your walls against. I used soup cans, vases, and bottles of wine to hold my cookie pieces in place while the royal icing dries. I strongly suggest working in batches on this, and building slowly. Don't rush! Rome wasn't built in a day, nor was it built using royal icing. 

Royal Icing for Decorations
  • 1 egg white from a large egg
  • Powdered sugar, A/N
You're going to want an icing that's thin enough to pipe, but thick enough to hold its shape. I suggest using a piping bag without a tip in it for the gluing together, and then use a small, fine round tip to decorate. 

You can start decorations on the pieces you know you'll be needing them on, such as the trim on the front or the side windows. You can also use other tips to create shell designs and comb designs. You can really let your imagination go wild on this! Use plenty of candy, of course, if that's your game. You can also use and modify your own cookie recipes to create design elements for your house. On my house, you'll see:

Ready for voting and judging!

  • Red velvet shortbread cookies (the tiles on the roof and shutters on the windows)
  • Sugar glass (the windows and the lake)
  • Flood-consistency royal icing (the melting snow on the roof)
  • Slivered almonds, tossed in edible gold dust (shimmery rocks and tiles around the pond)
  • White chocolate and pistachio discs (for stepping stones and piped in long pieces for logs)
  • Stiff-consistency royal icing (the icicles, window trim, and more)
  • Homemade marshmallow (the snowy ground)
  • Gum drops and candy canes (for fun!)
You have free range on this one, so use this recipe and these techniques to build the gingerbread house of your dreams. Some planning should go into this, but if you wing it, just remember: it's only cookies, it'll be okay. 

Can you eat this? Sure. Do you want to? I don't know...do you? After you spent all of this time on it? 

Need some inspiration on the gingerbread house of your dreams? Check out Pinterest and Instagram! My skills aren't anywhere near the kind that these trained pastry chefs have, but I still have fun doing them. I highly suggest you have some fun doing them yourself with your kids, your sisters and brothers, your parents, your friends...anyone in your life that you'd like to see have a little fun! 

Unbelievable! I've finally finished! I had other plans for today but I desperately need to shower - I've got icing in places you shouldn't have icing.... but let me talk you through my gingerbread house first! I call it "Pavasaris Ateina", or "spring is coming", to you and me. I had a great aunt that came over for Lithuania and she describes her fine home in autobiography. When she comes to America, she and the rest of her family are subjected to extreme poverty, and she recalls fondly her fine and beautiful home that they once had before it was burned down by the Cossacks. I know it's not the most traditional subject for a gingerbread house, but I would like to think that in the depths of winter is the time in which we need some bright and cheerful hope the most. As they say, It's always darkest before the dawn. I know that we're all tired, but we all need to keep fighting. There is some good in the world and it is worth fighting for. Do you like my gingerbread house? Come and see it at the Webster house, starting tomorrow! It's complete with red velvet shortbread roof tile, marshmallow snow, sugar glass windows, white chocolate stepping stones, and more! And please vote for me! Every single penny donated by voting goes to benefit the children's center for the visually impaired... Or, you know, you could just buy it! Buy it and put it up in your home! See if you can find the hidden gelt... #foodiechats #foodblogger #wannabgourmande #KansasCity #midwestlife #dairyfree #gingerbreadhouse #ccvi #gingerbreadlane #candy #chocolate #gbbo #biscuits #shortbread #redvelvet #candycane #holidaydecor #happyholidays #christmas #parve #pareve #baking #instabake #cookiedecorating #sugar #immigrantsmakeamericagreat #hope #lithuania @ccvi1952
A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

I hope you've enjoyed. If you live in the Kansas City area and would like to see my gingerbread house, please head to Webster House in the Crossroads, at 1644 Wyandotte Street, and snap a selfie with it! You can drop a dollar in the "People's Choice" jar to vote for me, or make a bid on it yourself. Or hey! Make a bid on one of the other houses that are there, if you like those better! I assure you, you won't be disappointed in what you see. My favorite part of this 'competition' is seeing the different interpretations that each chef has on what they think a gingerbread structure should be.

Happy baking and happy eating!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Last Single Cabbage Roll

These were the star of #Foodiechats last Monday
A little less than a month ago, I married the most wonderful, kind, generous, sensitive, intelligent man I've ever met. Our wedding was beautiful, the food was lovely, and I was so happy to take this next step in my life with someone that I was so proud to call my husband. This journey has been a long one. B and I have been together for over four years now, and he's now lovingly taken to telling me my favorite line from his wedding vows:

"From now until forever."

I look forward to many years together. In my vows, I promised that he'd always get the last slice of pizza, the big piece of fried chicken, and that no matter what, his home would be full of good meals, as would be the rest of his life. I show love by cooking, and he's my favorite person to cook for. Now,  you would think that I'd have chosen something a little more loving and poetic than Lithuanian cabbage rolls as the last meal I cooked for him before he moved out of our house the week before our wedding. You would think that I'd take "the last meal" before our wedding day with a little more thought. You'd probably think that I'd put something a little more photogenic on the table, wouldn't you? Well guess what!

I didn't. I put dumb old cabbage rolls on the table and looked across to my then-fiance and realized: this is the last meal I'll cook for him until we're married. As you can imagine, I about cried. The next meal we'd have together would be our rehearsal dinner, of course, and then our wedding tacos, but I didn't make those. Oh, sure, I made the cake, but that wasn't a meal. The last meal I had made for my husband before we were married were dumpy old cabbage rolls. And you know what?

He loved them. He loved the cabbage rolls, ate them heartily, and kissed me lovingly and thanked me for taking the effort to cook him such a nice meal. I was near tears with how embarrassed I was over the silly things and he loved them! Looking back on it now, I can only assume that it was the stress and jitters of everything all coming to fruition. He'd proposed on Valentine's Day and we got married on October 21st. I'd planned the best wedding I could and I'm so happy with how everything turned out.
I'm making a funny face but I love the movement in this shot.
Those veils are hand-sewn and hand-embroidered by yours truly!

And I looked freaking fabulous, too.

Anyway, on to the cabbage rolls! These won foodiechats and had the most-response out of any photo I've posted in recent memory. It turns out that cabbage rolls are an emotional food for many! It's a humble dish by nature and one that's seldom found in restaurants. You get cabbage rolls from grandmother's table, not the gastropub in the hipster part of town. (Or maybe you do nowadays? I don't know, I've never seen them there.)

Holishkes are the traditional Jewish stuffed cabbage that are usually stuffed with a minced meat of some kind, sometimes with rice to fill it up, and then simmered in tomato sauce. It's a pretty common dish at Sukkot, which is a fall harvest festival in which you eat like a pig for seven whole days. Balendeliai (which means 'little doves'), or Lithuanian stuffed cabbage rolls, are eaten just because.

While you can stick to the traditional recipe of forcemeat with rice, I honestly like to make cabbage rolls using leftovers. No, really! You take you leftovers, roll them up in a sturdy veggie burrito, and simmer them in a sauce...then boom! Your leftovers have been reincarnated into something that looks like you did it on purpose. This is what I did for the last single cabbage roll.

Chicken Cabbage Rolls
yields a dozen cabbage rolls, plenty for two with leftovers
  • 1 young cabbage, quite small - or a regular-sized cabbage using only the more tender leaves in the middle
  • 1 lb shredded chicken meat (this was leftover from the chicken tacos I'd made the other night)
  • 1 cup onion, diced quite fine
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced quite fine
  • 1/4 cup fennel, shredded fine
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked rice
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp dried dill
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
This doesn't sound like a whole lot, but trust me, it'll be plenty! You're only using it to stuff things, and each roll won't take more than three tablespoons of filling safely. Then again, I had a rather small, young cabbage that I'd grown. These ingredients sound like a mishmash of leftovers. I have news for you: they were. This was a dish I'd thrown together without even thinking about the fact that it was the last meal I'd cook for my wonderful partner before we were separated then married.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix your chicken, diced veggies, and rice in one large bowl. Don't worry about seasoning this part, you'll season the broth vigorously. Meanwhile, bring to boil a medium sauce pot of salted water, and prepare the cabbage. You'll want the younger, more tender leaves so be sure to peel away the larger layers. Trim the hard stem part away, only an inch or two of it, with a paring knife. Using tweezers or your bare fingers - only if you haven't any feeling left in them anymore, like me - blanch your cabbage leaves for about 30 seconds per leaf, just enough to bring out the color and make it soft enough to roll. I suggest doing all the leaves at once so you can lay them flat on a warm plate, ready for rolling.

See? Nice and tight, like little cigars!
When ready, take a spoonful or two of your filling and smash it into a cigar shape. You'll roll by rolling up the bottom, just to cover, and then folding in the ends/sides, nice and tight, to look like an envelope. Roll it up firmly yet gently, almost like you're swaddling a baby bird, and then store them on another plate with the seam down. Repeat until you have no more filling!

Take your favorite dutch oven (I've got mine that I inherited from my great-grandmother) and get it nice and hot on the flame. Add a tablespoon of a neutral oil and let it heat. Once you're good and hot, sear the cabbage rolls, seam side down, to seal, and then on the other side to get some flavor. You will most-likely have to this in batches, but that's okay. Once everything's all seared, you'll reintroduce your cabbage rolls, arranged as tight as you can arrange them, to your pan. Pour in the beef stock, the tomato paste, dill, bay leaf, and whole smashed garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and adjust seasoning. You want to make sure that your cabbage leaves are wholly covered. While you can keep it simmering on the stovetop, I like to use the oven.

Pop the lid on your dutch oven and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Traditionally, you serve this with lots of sour cream and fresh dill, maybe even some scallions if you're feeling fancy. We don't do dairy in the house, so we like Tofutti's sour cream substitute. The best part about this food is that you can set the pot on the table (with a pad underneath that hot pot, of course!) and serve straight out of the cooking dish. I also love that you can make these a day ahead and just heat up as needed, which - trust me - I did, all throughout the week of the wedding. Fortunately, I had my best friend and Maid of Honor Riley there to keep me sane while she lived with me for the week. Bless her.

Riley, you've saved my life so many times. Thank you so much for being my best friend.
So that's it! That's the delicious cabbage roll, that made a spark of interest on the #Foodiechats chat! Thanks so much for reading. If you try any of my recipes, subscribe to me and comment below on your results.

Thank you so much! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Vegan Doughnuts

I throw around the term 'vegan' a lot. I know I've stated before that I am not a vegan, but whenever I eat a dish that has no meat in it, it's automatically vegan because there is no dairy in them. My husband and I have been totally dairy-free for a few years now, and it's honestly gotten much easier with time. There are many products out there that make going dairy-free or vegan very easy, and you'll hardly have to sacrifice a thing! A word on donuts, though, before we begin:

The doughnut as we know it is an all-American food. We've seen doughnuts in popular culture for generations, and it's even mentioned back in old receipts books (that's old timey speak for 'recipe books'). You can cook them in a cast iron pot with boiling fat on the prairie, and what sounds more American than that? But what if I told you that this was not an indigenous treat? I'm sure you wouldn't be that surprised.

Doughnuts originate from Dutch cultures, and they were brought over to the Americas by the same people that brought us pancakes - which means, yes, "Dutch Pancake" is a tautology. You can find all sorts of nifty tidbits of info on the Dutch influences in American cooking in this lovely book, Cookies, Coleslaw and Stoops. Isn't learning great? I think so.

So the doughnut, originally Dutch, has made its way into our hearts. Gourmet doughnuts have emerged in the last few  years, and they are plastered on Instagram in droves! And why not? It's an enriched dough that's been deep-fried in fat and either rolled in sugar or slathered with glazes and toppings and stuffed with fillings that would make anybody blush! My favorite doughnuts are jelly doughnuts, especially with raspberry in them. I also love a good s'mores doughnut, glazed with chocolate and stuffed with caramel and marshmallow. (I've never actually bought one like that - I make those.) You can let your imagination go wild when you create your own doughnut! Just follow these simple instructions...

Vegan Doughnuts
yields: enough (you'll see what I mean)

  • 300 g AP flour (two cups and change)
  • 3 g yeast
  • 20 g cane sugar
  • 75 g vegan butter (you can use high-ratio vegetable shortening in a pinch)
  • 135 g warm coffee (leftover from the morning brew is just fine, warmer than body temperature but not so hot as to scald your fingers)
Combine the flour, yeast, and sugar into the bowl of  your standing mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Cut the butter into 1/2" chunks and distribute among the flour, then turn on your mixer to let the hook stir in the fat and yeast. Turn off the mixer, pour the coffee straight in, and allow everything to come together. Will this have a coffee flavor, then? Hardly - it'll be barely noticeable, but you do want the subtle complexities and gentle acids of your coffee to add depth and elevate the flavorings of the doughnut you'll add later...and the acids will cut the glutens to make sure that you won't overwork your dough and get nasty tunneling. You're looking for a very smooth dough that easily passes the window test, so let this little dough take its time and knead for about 8 minutes.

Remove the dough ball from the mixer and gently, lightly lubricate the bowl with some neutral oil. Smooth your dough into a nice round ball in your hands and roll around in the bowl of your mixer. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place to proof, or rise. They call it proofing because it 'proves' the yeast is working while it rises! This should take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. 

Meanwhile, let's talk about fat and deep-frying! You can spend your  money on a fancy deep-fat fryer that you'll only bust out every so often but will otherwise keep space on your counter and collect dust for months on end...or you can do what I do and fire up a stock pot! If I'm doing a large amount of deep-frying, say for fried chicken or croquettes, I'll use my big dutch oven. If it's just doughnuts, I'll use my 6 qt stock pot that I picked up at a thrift store, who knows when. 

You can also spend the money on nice liquid soybean or grapeseed oil, which has a high smoke point and you can get a lot of yield out of it...or you can just use creamy vegetable shortening out of the big blue drum - you know the kind. Why use this kind? I'll tell you in one word: cleanup. 

It is exponentially easier to clean up a fat that turns solid at room temperature, that you can scrape into your trash, than it is to strain and properly dispose of used liquid fat. But hey, if you want to strain your fat and bribe some guy at the local Chinese place to let you use their grease dumpster for it, be my guest. 

Oh, and let's remember: safety first. Always wear a full apron when dealing with fat, and keep a thermometer handy to make sure that it doesn't go over 400 degrees. You're going to want to be at about 350 degrees F for your doughnuts. And never, ever EVER throw water on a greasefire! Just turn off the heat, cover it, and walk away. Don't touch it, don't try to move it. Turn off the heat, cover it, and walk away. If you throw water on boiling fat, it will explode everywhere and you will get hurt. To prevent fat boil-over, never fill your vessel more than halfway up with fat. I think for my little pot, that's about three cups of shortening, heated. Please be safe!

So once your dough is proved, let's get cutting. 

Lightly flour your cold marble surface and choose your cutters. I took these two rounds from my cutter set. I floured them, my hands, and my rolling pin before very gently rolling out my dough into a 1/2" thick slab.You can do many different kinds of shapes, if you like. You can even do hearts or stars! I do like the traditional rings and I, of course, save the middles for doughnut holes. But what's to be done with the excess? 

I like to take my excess and roll out into a square, then cut in strips. These create a very charming, rustic long john! You can fill these, of course, or you can just leave them as is. You can also cut crossways as well as long ways to create square doughnut holes. Heck, cut square doughnuts! You can do whatever you want - you're the one that's eating them, after all.

Lightly flour again and place on a baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or a silpat mat to keep from sticking. Leave in a warm place to let them have a second rise while your fat is coming up to temperature. Remember, you're looking for 350 degrees F for optimal doughnut frying! While it's coming up, start thinking about your toppings. 

I had this caramel dark chocolate ganache left over from my wedding, so I melted some of it down to a liquid state for glazing. (For my basic ganache recipe, find it here!) I also took some granulated cane sugar with some cinnamon, cardamom, sumac, and a tiny hint of cayenne to create a sugar doughnut. You can also chop up things like candy bars, graham crackers, mini marshmallows, baked meringue cookies, heath pieces, sprinkles, your favorite cereal, and freeze-dried fruit to use as toppings! 

If you're just a fan of the classic glazed, do this:

Basic Sugar Glaze
  • 2 Tbsp vegan butter substitute, melted
  • 1 1/2 c powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp almond milk/coconut milk/hemp milk
Mix until smooth and flavor as you like! Correct the consistency as you need to - it should be a little gloopy and not too runny. I really like using vanilla paste for this particular glaze, but you can do any flavor you like and color appropriately. If you find yourself a pistachio flavoring, for example, don't be afraid to color it a festive green color! And a cherry flavor? Why, pink, of course, must be the answer. Pop it in a piping bag and set aside.

Now that your toppings are all in place, make sure that you have a way to get your doughnuts and doughnut holes out of that hot fat. I like chopsticks for big rings, and a pasta spoon to fish out the holes and long johns. And please make sure that you're nice and organized before you begin - because once you start frying, you're not going to be able to stop.

I always fry my doughnut holes first, dropping them gently from a few inches above the surface of the hot oil, stirring them around, and letting them cook to GBD (golden-brown delicious) before fishing them out. Shake them a little before you drop these ones in your spiced sugar mixture, and then toss them about with a restrained vigor. Evacuate and set on a plate!

You can also shave chocolate atop to give yourself a little texture!

I'd fry the larger doughnuts one at a time, if I were you, especially if you're a beginner. Use the chopsticks to gently turn them over and then fish them out through the hole. Either dump them straight in the sugar mixture or use a paper towel to dab them gently before letting them fall face-first into your ganache. If you glaze them, simply run your glaze around the doughnut in a ring so the glaze falls off and cascades down. If you'd like a more opaque effect of frosting, let the doughnuts cool a little before you glaze them and add sprinkles. 

Keep going until all of your doughnuts are finished! These will keep under plastic wrap for at least a couple of days, but I promise you that they won't last that long. 

So there you have it! Easy vegan doughnuts that will impress and let loose your creativity. I hope you enjoy the recipe, and try it for yourself. Happy cooking and happy eating!